Midhurst specialists are set to raise the bell of a famous sunken second world war battle cruiser from the depths of the sea.
Experts are preparing to embark on the joint recovery effort of the bell belonging to HMS Hood, which was sunk in the North Atlantic in 1941.
The wreck, which lies 2,800m beneath the surface and is covered in a mass of debris, was discovered in 2011 by Midhurst-based shipwreck investigation company Blue Water Recoveries.
HMS Hood is the largest Royal Navy vessel to have been sunk and marked the biggest loss of life with 1,415 men killed when it was sunk by battleship Bismarck.
If the recovery is a success, the bell will be displayed at Portsmouth’s National Museum of the Royal Navy in 2014.
“When we discovered the Hood in 2011 we located the bell in a debris field. It was quite a surprise because there is an enormous amount of wreckage over a large area and to find such an important object was miraculous,” said David Mearns, director of Blue Water Recoveries.
“It’s a very iconic object and a very personal part of the ship and got a lot of people talking about the possibility of recovering it,” added Mr Mearns.
Now Blue Water Recoveries’ hopes of recovering the bell can become a reality, with the help of second world war history enthusiast Paul Allen, founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates, who has now come forward in support of the historical project.
A yacht owned by Mr Allen will be specially equipped with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for the operation, which gets under way this month.
If recovered successfully, the bell will be used as a memorial to the men who were lost on May 24, 1941.
Blue Water Recoveries have received the support of the HMS Hood Association, the relatives of those who died in the tragedy and some of the survivors, all keen to see the bell recovered successfully and put on display.
Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks, president of the HMS Hood Association, said: “Future generations will be able to gaze upon her bell and remember with gratitude and thanks the heroism, courage and personal sacrifice of Hood’s ship’s company who died in the service of their country.”
The Midhurst sea specialists now have a licence from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), plan to leave from Iceland on August 20 and hope to lift the bell in a week to ten days.
The ROV, which has arm movements similar to a human, will be operated from the deck of a vessel.
A 28m pole will be attached to the arm of the ROV with a hook on the end, which it is hoped will hoist the bell from the seabed.
“I think we have a very good chance. We have a picture but the bell is in a tricky spot and there is no guarantee, but we have thought very hard about it and practised and planned,” added Mr Mearns.
He stressed the wreck would not be disturbed during the operation as the bell was lying free of the main wreckage and disturbance in any case would be minimal.